KITTY WELLS (By Shaun Mather)
Born Muriel Ellen Deason, 30 August 1919, Nashville, Tennessee
Kitty Wells is known as the Queen of Country Music, thanks to a string of hit singles during the '50s and '60s. She was one of the most influential acts in country music, giving women a voice, and thus giving impetus to a slew of young girls who may otherwise have struggled to get established in what was predominantly a male scene. Among those who credit her are Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. Her work is soaked in the classic country sounds of steel guitars and sawing fiddles, and although her vocals sound a bit square (compared to the likes Jean Sheppard), the songs were top notch.
Born Muriel Deason in Nashville (not many country stars were actually born in the city), she sang from an early age and was taught guitar by her father. She began singing with her sisters as the Deason Sisters, making their radio debut on Nashville's WSIX in 1936. It was here where she met her future husband Johnnie Wright (Johnnie and Jack). Together with his sister Louise, they formed Johnnie Wright and the Harmony Girls. Louise's husband Jack Anglin joined them in 1939 and they became the Tennessee Hillbillies before changing to the Tennessee Mountain Boys. Anglin was drafted in 1942 and Johnnie and Kitty started working as a duo. It was around this time that Johnnie gave her her stage name, taken from an old folk ballad called "I'm A-Goin' to Marry Kitty Wells."
When Anglin returned from the Army, he hooked up with Johnnie again and they became Johnnie & Jack, featuring Kitty on their live shows. They worked regularly on the famed Louisiana Hayride, earning a spot on the RCA roster in 1949. Kitty also joined the label but after a few unsuccessful singles, switched to Decca, where she hit with 1952's "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," a response to Hank Thompson's great honky tonk bar room classic, "The Wild Side of Life." More important than the music was the lyrics. She gave the woman's side of the story, a brave move which paved the way for Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette to take a stage further.
Her next hit was "Paying for That Back Street Affair," another answer record, this time responding to Webb Pierce's cheat song, "Back Street Affair." She had another 23 Top Ten hits during the '50s, my favourite being "Repenting" in 1956. The '60s weren't quite as successful, but she continued to hit the lower reaches of the charts. I'm a sucker for 1964's "Password" which shows her voice in a good light, even sounding like Patsy Cline in spots.
She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame ion 1974, thanks to her pioneering work in breaking down the doors for Patsy, Tammy and almost very female artist since. She slowed down her concert schedule during the '80s, running a museum outside of Nashville, touring occasionally with Johnnie and appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. In 1991, Kitty Wells was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys.
Recommended listening: God's Honky Tonk Angel (The First Queen of Country Music) - Edsel Records (EDCD 640). There's also a 4 CD-set, "The Queen Of Country Music" (Bear Family BCD 15638 DI).
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